Dingoes, stingers and sharks (Fraser Island – Cairns)

I’ll pick up where I left off; Fraser Island…

Fraser Island is the world’s biggest sandcastle and a real highlight of the East coast. I booked myself on a self-drive 3 day, 2 night tour. There were 8 of us in total, all up for a good time and a nice mix of nationalities which is always good. I was a bit worried about getting stuck with a bunch of 18 year old pissheads from Croydon or somewhere (nothing against Croydon…) who all went to school with each other. Would have made for a very different experience! Or even worse, I heard of one English lad who had a miserable time as his group consisted of himself and 8 non-English speaking Germans! So into the 4 wheel drive we jumped and headed for the ferry across to Fraser Island. After the initial setback of getting stuck in the sand BEFORE even boarding the ferry (ahem, a girl was driving… ;-)) we were on our way.

We had a good first day, taking in a freshwater creek and a shipwreck and, after a long drive, set up camp at Indian Head at the northern end of the island. Swimming in the sea is strongly discouraged as severe rips drag you out into the ocean and along the coast before kindly dumping you in the middle of one of the few shark breeding grounds in the world! Only in Australia, eh…!

Fraser Island is also well known in these parts for it’s dingoes, and they certainly aren’t shy animals. Barely had we finished dinner when several hungry dingoes turned up keenly eyeing our leftovers. They shot us looks that said “we know you’re not supposed to feed us, but it’s either the leftovers or you… and we know where you’re staying tonight!”. They apparently spent the night scavenging around the campsite (according to the reports of nervous groups of girls going to the toilet together in the middle of the night!). Fortunately my good friend Mr Alcohol removed all concern from my own mind.

Heading back down the beach on day 2 we took in a few more sights including the beautiful Lake Wabby – a green coloured freshwater lake with a huge sand dune sloping down towards it. Another night camping, surrounded this time by a large fence keeping out those pesky dingoes.

The 3rd and final day was taken up with a long drive to a large freshwater lake called Lake McKenzie. This lake, consisting of gorgeous shades of blue, was slightly spoilt by the number of people there when we arrived. It felt like the ‘Bondi Beach’ of Fraser Island, but it was impossible not to be struck by the natural beauty of the place.

After a stint behind the wheel (giving me only my 2nd driving experience in 6 years!) we were back on the ferry.

So to sum up Fraser Island – lot’s of sand, lot’s of dingoes, lots of fun.

The next ‘must-see’ up the coast was the Whitsunday Islands off the coast of Airlie Beach. These islands are situated near the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. I set off on a 2 day, 2 night sailing trip around these islands. Once again I was very lucky with the group of 14 people on the boat.

We were able to snorkel in some of the bays, but not before donning stinger suits (basically thin wetsuits to protect us from the ‘stingers’ that are present in these parts). However, the fact that a lot of the suits looked older than the Great Barrier Reef itself and had holes in them exposing half my torso didn’t seem to matter…

Probably the highlight of the trip was a couple of hours on Whitehaven Beach – as the name suggests, a brilliant white beach with incredibly clear turquoise waters.

We were all allocated bunks, but some of them were so small a hamster would have had severe difficulty squeezing into them, so i opted to sleep on deck both nights. It was surprisingly comfortable, but sleeping in beyond 6:30am was nearly impossible as the sun is just so strong even this early in the morning.

One of the 2 crew members was a qualified chef so the meals were a big plus point! Among the passengers were a Norwegian woman and her 10 year old son. When at the start of the trip the chef asked if anyone had any special diets this woman explained that her son survived on a diet of cornflakes and, er… more cornflakes. He was the most spoilt kid in history and it was hilarious to watch. She reminded me of Cartman’s mum from South Park – except instead of pie it was; “Mum! Get your bitch ass back in the kitchen and pour me some cornflakes!!”. Occasionally he did supplement his cornflake diet with other things… at one point I spotted him walking around deck with a bowl of dry cornflakes in one hand and a can of XXXX in the other!

The Whitsundays were great fun. The weather was both hot and sunny. But despite slapping on copious amounts of suncream I still managed to step off the boat looking like the Canadian flag…

After the obligatory ‘post-sailing trip piss-up’ that night I continued north to Townsville…’

Townsville, in my opinion, is a dump. Fortunately though, Magnetic Island lies just a short ferry ride away. I had an awesome time on magnetic island. A lot of it was due to an amazing Canadian girl I met on the way there.

A couple of days later we made our way up to Cairns together, major gateway to the barrier reef among other things. Now, I realised that this is the wet season, but the amount of rain we’ve had is ridiculous! It makes the wet season I experienced in Asia seem like a series of short drizzly showers. Fortunately the rain (which is warm at any rate) doesn’t prevent you from doing most of the activities up here. One such activity which continues unabated is bungy jumping…

So I arrived at the AJ Hackett bungy site in the pouring rain where getting a bit damp was the last thing I was thinking about. I climbed the staircase to the height of 50 metres and then looked down… Wow! The waiting was the worst bit. I was dying to just get strapped up and jump. My turn came and I jumped. It was an indescribable experience! The adrenalin rush is enormous. I proceeded to do 2 more jumps – one backwards and one called the ‘Elevator’ where I dropped down feet first and was then spun upside down when the bungy stretched. Great fun!!

Ok then, nearly at the end! My 3 day, 2 night liveaboard trip on the Great Barrier Reef…

As i’ve already said the weather here has been rather bad of late, and it was set to get worse. A few days prior to my trip north Queensland was warned that a cyclone was heading it’s way! Thankfully, and to the genuine surprise of the dive crew, the cyclone turned into a gentle breeze and conditions were great. We even saw the sun once or twice!! The trip involved 11 dives, 5 of which, along with some tuition, constituted my Advanced Open Water dive course. It included a deep dive to 30 metres (no narcosis experienced… 🙁 ) and a couple of night dives. On the second night dive my buddy and I were unaccompanied and, using the navigation skills we had been taught, we were to locate a bommie of coral which we found during a daytime dive with no difficulty. How different things are at night! We were both glued to our compasses, heading on a bearing of 180 degrees. Minutes passed. No bommie. More minutes passed. Still no bommie. Hmm… we’d been taught to always trust the compass over our instincts when under water so we continued along the southerly bearing. Well, you can imagine our surprise when, after apparently swimming in the same direction for 15 mins, we came across the anchor to which our boat was moored! It was like something out of the Blair Witch Project! We decided to give it another go and to cut a long story short we had to be picked up by a boat after ending up god knows where. And they told us the Advanced course is a great way of increasing one’s confidence in the water! Riiiiight. All good fun though.

The diving on the reef was awesome, especially on the last 2 days. Visibility was 20 metres plus. I saw numerous reef sharks, turtles, an Eagle ray, a Moray Eel and one or two fish aswell!! An amazing experience that i’ll never forget.

In order to fit in 11 dives in 3 days the schedule was quite strict in order to allow sufficient surface intervals between dives. One guy went just 1.4 metres too deep on one dive and was prohibited from diving again for another 6 hours, missing the final dive – it’s that strict! The first dive of each day was at 6:30am! What better day to wake up?!


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